Man to show King Kong-size love for gorillas with fundraising walk
Say you're applying for a mortgage and the loan officer has several large photos of gorillas on his wall. No big deal, really. But then say your...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Say you're applying for a mortgage and the loan officer has several large photos of gorillas on his wall.
No big deal, really. But then say your eyes drift over to his bookshelf: gorilla figurines, gorilla books, gorilla tie, bobblehead gorilla. And a box of Gorilla Munch breakfast cereal.
"Some people call me the Crazy Gorilla Guy," says Drew Nichol, and by now you've pretty much figured out why.
What you see is evidence of Nichol's passion — obsession, perhaps — for Africa's mountain gorillas, one of the most endangered species on the planet.
What you don't see is that Nichol, 42, is preparing to put his feet where his heart is. In June, he plans to walk from Seattle to Portland to raise money for a nonprofit group working to protect the last 700-some mountain gorillas on Earth.
"This is not about me," Nichol insists. "It's about the mission."
For about two months, Nichol, who works for The Legacy Group, a Bellevue-based mortgage firm, has been taking weekly walks of up to 24 miles on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, starting near his Woodinville home.
With the help of friends, he has also recorded a music CD and is working on a DVD, both to benefit the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a nonprofit organization working in Africa to protect the gorillas. He also is accepting donations for the project. And he plans to visit Rwanda to see the gorillas himself for the first time this fall.
Those closest to Nichol attest to his fervor.
"He's a little bit over the top, but we all love it," says Jen Wuebel, his assistant at work for the past eight years and one of the people who has contributed gorilla items to Nichol. "When he starts talking about the gorilla stuff with a client, he'll get up and close his door, because he knows the rest of us have heard it 10 million times."
But Wuebel is in awe of Nichol's dedication. "He really wants to make a difference on this, and I don't think he's going to stop until he does."
Nichol, who has a bachelor's degree in zoology, has always been an animal lover. For years, he and his wife, Brenda, have owned and helped find homes for greyhounds retired from racing.
He traces his emotional connection with gorillas to a December 2005 afternoon, when a friend talked him into seeing the remake of "King Kong."
"For some reason, the death of a fictitious, 30-foot-tall, computer-generated gorilla left me deeply saddened for days," he says.
Even more emotional, about a year ago, was seeing the movie "Instinct" on TV, with a scene in which poachers kill gorillas. "It absolutely put me on my knees," he said. "I just knew deep down in my heart and soul I had to do something."
Nichol is calling his efforts "Gorillas in Our Midst," a takeoff on "Gorillas in the Mist," the 1988 film about zoologist Dian Fossey, believed to have been killed by poachers while trying to protect mountain gorillas.
Unlike lowland gorillas, such as those at the Woodland Park Zoo, mountain gorillas have not thrived or reproduced successfully in captivity and face a heightened threat of disease stemming in part from contact with human populations.
On the CD of lullabies and other instrumentals, including a piece from the "King Kong" movie, Nichol plays acoustic guitar and his friend Kevin Pedersen plays piano.
"I don't have the same level of commitment he has," Pedersen said, "but it's hard to be around Drew and not get caught up in his passion."
Nichol plans to start his walk from Woodland Park Zoo, at a memorial to James Foster, a former Woodland Park Zoo veterinarian who died of a heart attack in 1997 while working with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Rwanda.
On his walk, to conclude at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Nichol hopes to cover about 200 miles in 10 days. He'll travel light, staying at hotels.
"Basically, my whole lifestyle — sleep, diet, exercise — is now focused on making sure that I'm in as good a shape as possible on June 6. Because once I start, I can't stop. If I have to stumble into Portland on crutches, that is what I am going to do."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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